8 Days that changed Eternity
As the last trip to leave for National Community Church's year long (july to july) A1:8 initiative, our trip to Guatemala was the period on a sentence of trips that shaped people's hearts, changed people's minds, and opened people's eyes.
Together, with Jon Vaughn, I led a team of 35 down to one of the roughest and torn apart countries in our Western Hemisphere, Guatemala. Still suffering effects from a 30 year civil war, ended in 1996, Guatemala has one of the highest homicide rates per capita in the world. Gangs run rampant through the streets, third world poverty is everywhere, and many teens are left with no father, and few role models. It was for this very reason that Jon Jakubowski, a 28-year-old former collegiate athlete with a heart for missions, founded Champions in Action. CIA (as we will call it) uses premiere sports camps to bring the Gospel to the youth of Guatemala, in a desire to see the broken nation restored, and a new generation rise. NCC partnered with CIA for an 8 day mission trip, taking place from June 25 (also my wedding anniversary) to July 3.
I'm still on a spiritual high as I type this, and I can't recall a time in my life when I've felt this much passion about a cause. For the past few months, most of my concerts have featured CIA material at my merch table, next to t-shirts, and CDs, and I've had the chance to share the mission with many inquisitive minds, however it wasn't until we touched down in Guatemala, that I saw the real heart behind this amazing organization, and their impact on the youth.
Day one started with a hiccup right away with our flight being delayed out of DC, and we had only 17 minutes to make our connector in Miami, but we made it, and with God's hand, we got into Guatemala City the night of June 25th, as planned. It was then that we got our first glimpse of this hurting city. As we rode in our bus to the mission house, where we'd stay that night, we saw people crowded in the streets, houses on top of houses, and kids running in gang-infested areas, without a parents hand holding theirs. When we got to the mission house, we were met by Jon and the CIA team, who we quickly fell in love with. Christian, a local pastor (who has biceps that could rival Barry Bonds) had one of the most passionate hearts I've ever come into contact with, and we instantly bonded over our musician ties.
The next morning we went to a local church where we first met our campers, albeit briefly. We had to check their bags, to make sure there were no weapons brought, or any other dangerous paraphernalia. We then loaded our bags, instruments and made the 6 hour trek to Mision El Faro, in beautiful coastal Izabal, Guatemala.
We greeted the campers with a line of high fives as they exited the bus, not sure what to expect for the next week. The first night ended with a powerful time of worship and a message, ending with roughly 12 campers coming to Christ. We knew we were in for a powerful week, and we had just arrived...
The next few days were filled with soccer tournaments, practices and exercises, all of course in the 100 degree, 100% humidity jungle weather. No joking, as soon as you'd get out of the shower, you'd start to sweat again. The sticky feeling was coupled with explosive diarrhea, which plagued most of our team at some point or another (sorry, just had to get that in).
Of course, that was all petty, and forgotten, the instant that one of those kids opened up, and shared their stories. My group was made up of ten boys, from red zone areas in Guatemala City, and their two mentors, Nery and Serafin, who lived in the same areas, and met with the boys on a daily basis. The mentors are basically the kids guardian angels, and the way they selflessly give of themselves to the kids is not only inspiring, but convicting as well. Each day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Sarah and I, along with our two US teammates Jose and Lynette (originally from Puerto Rico) would make casual conversation with the boys, and just love them as they were.
The casual conversations took a serious turn on Day 3 when I posed the following question to the boys at lunch: What are your toughest 3 problems at home, that you want to change when you leave this camp?
Of course, the first few answers were silly, as one kid told me he had too many women in his life, and the next said his homework. Then, my boy Luiz, or as his friends call him "Shrek" told us that his two best friends had just been killed, and that he's afraid he's next.... Wow. How do you answer that? Shrek's answer opened up the rest of the boys to share their problems at home, ranging from drug abuse, to violence, to death threats. The next few days, our conversations got deeper, and our prayer times got longer. We were able to get through the surface level talk and go to a level I never knew could be attained in such a short period of time.
Then the last night of camp, God dropped on the camp, like a Holy Spirit time bomb. Our time of worship went on a little longer this night, as many of the mentors, and camp staff shared their stories and testimonies, opening the kids eyes (and some of our jaws, as they hit the floor). There were stories of grace, redemption, and hope. The campers, along with our team, had watched a documentary called "Reparando" (meaning Repairing) the night before, which had to be one of the most amazing films I've ever seen. This video opened many of our US team's eyes to the state that Guatemala was in, and where these boys were coming from. Out of 100 boys, over 90 came to the front to give their hearts to Christ. 3 of the boys that held back, were from my group. But the night wasn't over yet.
After the worship/message, Jon encouraged us to get back into our groups and share about the decisions made that night, along with the mentors. Serafin asked me and Lynette to go with him and talk with the 3 boys that held back their hearts from stepping into a relationship with Christ. I was a little concerned that we would be forcing them to make a decision they didn't want to make, but I was wrong.
Serafin opened up and just asked why they didn't step up. One boy, Nesh, said he didn't think he could let go of what he was holding onto in his life - drugs, girls, etc. The other two, Maruco and Mariano (brothers, who had me cracking up all week) said they didn't think the Christian life was for them. Then God gave me a word for Maruco. As I looked at him, I spoke to him with broken Spanish, and told him the following:
"Maruco, you are a leader. These kids love you, and whenever you walk into the room, we all light up. Your joy is infectous, and you are always cracking everyone up. But when I look into your eyes, I see a wall of pain..."
At this point, I could feel Holy Spirit fall in that place, as Maruco wept uncontrollably, in the arms of Serafin. I continued...
"You don't have to carry the pain anymore. Jesus wants to take it from you, and replace it with His love and peace. His hand is extended, but you have to grab it first. He can't take your pain, unless you give it to Him."
Mariano, Maruco's younger brother, followed suit with the same thing, and all three boys were in tears, when Serafin asked if he could pray. We stood up, as Serafin lightly asked the boys if they wanted to trade their sorrows for joy, and all three raised their hands, and asked Christ into their hearts...
8 days that changed eternity. For these kids, for me, for Sarah, and for our entire group of 35.
Our last day was supposed to be a "rest and relaxation day", spent in beautiful Antigua. Our group decided they'd rather spend it visiting a deaf school, and an orphanage, where two of our groups of boys came from. We made the right choice.
At the orphanage we were greeted by some of the most beautiful faces I've ever seen, and shared some amazing times with kids who had so much hope in their eyes. I got the chance to film some really cool spots for the God Anthology series with my bro Eliezar, capturing the beauty of the city, along with the heart of NCC. We also quickly decided that we need to take a trip back to the orphanage as a mission trip in and of itself!
As we boarded the plane on the last day, all of us in our Guatemala jerseys and jackets, we knew we were leaving behind a piece of our hearts. There are so many stories that I don't have time to tell, and everyone on the team can tell you amazing circumstances that God moved in. We all had nicknames by the last day, and mine was Tortrix, named after the popular chips in Guatemala. Don't ask me why.. haha. We fell in love with these kids. We fell in love with this country. Each one of us still burns with a passion for the youth, and for their city. God is raising up a new voice, and thanks to people like Christian, Serafin, Nery, all the mentors and staff we met, and Jon Jakubowski, this voice is one that will be heard. Though language was divided, hearts were connected. This world is crying out to us, every day. All we need to do is open our ears to listen..... and then answer.